Monthly Archives: February 2020

Master Brand Strategy and Me.


I am a self-taught brand planner. The fuel for my business was scores of exploratory interviews with high-level and executive planners from big city agencies. I honed my craft and framework with research, reading books, blogs, newsletters, and by watching interviews and webinars. I have also worked with business consultants.

My two key discovery tools are 24 Questions, business and financial Qs used to understand how money is made and lost, and a battery of Fact Finding questions used with company chiefs, salespeople and customers.

I do master brand planning. That is, I create the organizing principle for product, experience and messaging that governs all marketing work. Every tactic used to build sales and loyalty, no matter the channel, should adhere to the master brand strategy. But it’s a job that eats itself. Once the master brand strategy is done, it needn’t be done again. (Unless, the business model changes.) Of the thousand of brand planner around the world, only a few handfuls actually work on the master brand strategy. Most planners are focused on tactical brand insights. Downstream of the master plan. Both jobs are awesome. But there’s only one master. Hee hee.



Low Versus High Level Branding.


Trail of Bits is a client along with Teq, Inc. that has made the greatest impact on my brand strategy business. I learn from everyone I consult with – that’s how the business works – but these two companies have had a powerful effect. What I learned from Trail of Bits, a software security company, is that there are two levels of security. Low level and high level. It’s a wonderful analog for branding.

In software there is the device and the software. The device is what one uses to do stuff and the software provides the rules and process driving the effort. You can train a person to use a computer/device. It’s a completely different story to teach them how the machine works. Using it is high level, understanding how it works, low level.

In branding, the business is flooded with people who know how to use devices, e.g., advertising, web development, PR, logo design, etc. They are all captains of their individual tactics. But at the lower level, where branding actually works to inform all tactics, there are few experts. Brand strategy is low level. It creates the framework for brand success. It creates the composition of sales and loyalty success. It creates the “organizing principle for product, experience and messaging.” Most importantly it integrates all the various pieces, across all devices.

By many business definitions “low level” means simplistic and “high level” means strategic. Not in software security. And not in branding. We flip the model.



Proof in Politics.


Illegal immigration has been a powerful President Trump issue from the earliest days. Some say his signature issue. Illegal immigrants, says he, contribute to many of our country’s ills; from MS 13, to rapists coming across the border, we’ve heard it all. His strategists knew it would be a hot topic for the voting public and were right.

But illegal immigration has been a political things for a long, long time. Addressing it has been a political ping pong ball. Yet only one candidate by my reckoning has ever talking about creating a wall along the Mexican US border. Dare I say a “big, beautiful wall,” as the sound bite goes.

If president Trump is anything, he’s a sales person. Everyone can talk about more processing camps, increasing the number of judges, reducing back logs and the like, but who talks about a building a wall? Trump understands the notion of “proof” in branding

What’s The Idea? readers know my brand strategy framework is built upon “claim and proof.” Fix immigration is the claim and the wall is the proof. Trump understand big sweeping proof gestures and it works in politics. It also works in brand building. Look at your business, find your claim then develop your proof.


PS. The president is dead wrong on all things realeted to immigration his policy. But branding?


When Branding Is Not Suspect Science


Ever the metaphor hunter when posting about brand planning, today I rip language straight out of the political scene. 

With all the talk about fake news and the questioning of climate science, I thought I’d borrow suspect science for my post. Suspect science is actually an oxymoron. If it’s scientific it is provable. It should be formulaic.

Branding in my book is mostly suspect science. That is it’s not predictable in its results. Advertising is much the same but at least with advertising you can look to sales and try to work backwards. Still, most would agree it is not very scientific. Branding is, I’m afraid, even less so.

That’s why I rely heavily on the claim and proof array framework. It sets out a means by which data collectors can ponder ROS (return on strategy). When you get the proof array right, three support values for your brand claim, it’s possible to measure awareness and attitude increases and tie them directly to business success measures. It’s not a count-the-clicks measure, it’s a long term measure. And the beauty of it is the framework was developed to measure more than dollars and sales. It was developed to cover many other business building values, like employee retention, customer loyalty and most anything.

It’s science…not suspect science.



How To Get To Whoa.


I’ve always loved working in categories that blow up the status quo. Let’s call them emerging categories for lack of a better term. Over the last 30 years, emerging has been tech. Prior to tech, it was chemicals. Next I’m hopeful the emerging category will be renewable energy and global climate.

Being a brand planner and creator of marketing strategies is fun when you are not re-cutting the pie over and over again. Bake new pie is what emerging category development is all about. That’s breakthrough shit.

I have a client in an emerging area within tech and when they meet others in the business and share where they work the response is always “Whoa.” When other makers and buyers say whoa about your company you know you are doing something right. So how do you get to whoa?

The cognoscenti might say, build a better mousetrap quietly and launch it with a splash. Secret your R&D, protect your IP, patent your jam. That’s not how it works today. Whoa comes from creating a company culture more open and democratic. One in which the best ideas are shared and communal learning happens. The best minds coming out of school wanting to learn. They paid hundreds of thousands to learn. And now, in real life when they can learn from a smart cohort for free?? Or be inspired by a cohort for free?? Whoa.

Education and sharing are how you create the whoa factor. Drop knowledge for free. It lifts all boats. And when you do it in an emerging category, ala, plant-based meats, or contra virus meds, you are doing the right thing. It’s a fastest way to Whoa.




Thought Monopoly.


There has been a lot of talk lately about breaking up tech monopolies. They have too much power. They inflate prices due to lack of competition. They tilt supply chains in their favor. All true. To the winners go the spoils until the government steps in. Or unions step in. AT&T was broken up when it gained too much power. I predicted Google would be broken up years ago; I’m still waiting. Monopolies are polarizing.

But in brand strategy, the goal of the brand planners to create a “thought monopoly.” That is, to establish impenetrable discrete values for a brand that customers want and at which the brand excels. I call them care-abouts and good-ats. At What’s The Idea? the brand values are 3, no more. The rule of three. And all brand values support a brand claim. The claim being a single idea, easily conveyed. Think of it as a tagline or tagline facsimile.

And though it’s a thought monopoly, the charter of the brand planner is not messaging alone. Thoughts are developed with proof and action. The fastest way to a thought is experience. So good brand strategy informs the product, the experience and the messaging.

No brand planner is happier than when they hear consumers play back to them the values they seed and plant in the consuming world. These values are the foundation of good commerce, of good branding.




Endemic Proof.


Intentional is the new authentic. These two words, commonly used in brand parlance, sound important but don’t really mean much. What brand planner would try to be inauthentic? It doesn’t make sense. And then there is intentional. Intentional today means with a mission; usually one that is about the betterment of the people and planet. An often an intentional quality is not an endemic product quality.

Today intentional is way over-used. And therefore diminished. You can’t just donate 1% of profits to a cause and be intentional. It’s not a badge marketers and branders wear, it’s an outcome of the work they do. Unless they are non-profits.

I don’t mean to be controversial here. It’s a good thing to do good. But be successful first, put your focus on winning in the marketplace first. That’s the job. Once successful use it to start a foundation, make donations, and correct injustice. (Think Microsoft.)

Brand strategy is one claim and three proof planks. With all the customer care-abouts and brand good-ats worthy of consideration, it’s best to leave the intention (and authenticity) in your heart. And build your brand with endemic proofs.




When Yum Ain’t Yum.


Yum brands announced lower earnings yesterday attributed to continued poor sales at Pizza Hut. Yum’s two other main fast food chains KFC and Taco Bell continue to perform well.

Here’s the thing. Yum Brands has cornered the market in some of the least healthy food offerings in the U.S. Smart companies in the business of serving less-than-healthy products (read Coke and Pepsi) know to hedge their bets with better for you offerings. Yum is a hold out. Sure they can put a salad on the menu and maybe a grilled offering, but it doesn’t change the scourge that is their high calorie, high cholesterol menus.

So where the innovation at? More pizzas with peperoni stuffed in the crust?

Were I in charge of Yum I’d innovate and introduce a completely new fast food chain. One intent on feeding the preyed upon chronic fast food eaters with healthier foods. I’m not talking Sweetgreen exactly, but in that direction.

Find ways to meet the cravings of the salt-happy, crunchy fried-food leaning diners. A la the air fryer people. And do so at an attractive price point. Look beyond the dashboard and spend some R&D money. Then strap on a pair of huevos and go for it.

There is pent-up demand for convenient, tasty, fast food that doesn’t cause obesity. If anyone knows the competition it’s Yum. It’s time to do the right thing. Which is also the smart economic thing.



Dashboard or Strategy Board.


How do you convince someone they need to invest in something they don’t know they need? First you have to educate them about the problem. Then you have to educate them as to the solution. It’s a two stepper. Two steppers are expensive. It’s sooo much easier to offer consumers something they know they need.

This two-step approach is the life of the brand strategist. My key business development chore is to convey to marketers that a focused and well thought out brand strategy can increase the value of all marketing. Thanks to the variety of marketing channels and tools available today (read: HubSpot, Google Analytics, etc), most marketers are focused on the dashboard, not the strategy board.

So how does one educate a marketer that a focused brand strategy will elevate the success of their product? The answer is — by sharing a disorganized brand strategy. Enter Brand Strategy Tarot Cards.

The cards are not really Tarot Cards but might as well be as they can predict brand organization. The cards are actually 7 pieces of select marketing content — all of which are highly visible to the public. By parsing these pieces for key take-aways in real time in front of a marketing team leader a picture emerges. It’s either a Rembrandt or a de Kooning. Clear and understandable or random and interpretive.

I am tweaking what the 7 pieces of content are but I would love a marketer to help me in my Beta efforts. It’s a freebee. Please write and let’s get started.



Brand Claims Need Proof Planks.


An accountant and consulting company I know announced a brand overhaul yesterday. They redesigned the logo and changed the company description. The descriptor used to say “Accountants and Success Consultants,” today it reads “Advisors and Accountants.” The new descriptor beats the old in so far as specificity goes.

The company’s new tagline is “Strength In Certainty.” Effectively, it is the brand claim. Everyone wants an accountant that is certain. One who knows the tax code and can give optimal advice. So certainty works here. It’s binary. Black or white.

But every brand claim needs support planks or as I call them brand planks; the evidentiary principles that allows consumers to believe the claim. In everything I read about the brand claim, I found no organized support planks. Without support, a claim is just a claim. It’s just advertising.

Many brand consultants or so-called brand advisor/experts, fall short when it comes to proof planks. And without proof in your brand strategy, you are missing the most important component.